Southern Rail has said it is “saddened and disappointed” that the members of the Aslef union have rejected the agreement put together between Southern and the Aslef management to resolve their dispute. But can either of the parties be surprised the proposal was rejected? Anyone with any understanding of the issues would not be surprised.
The management of Aslef seem to have interposed themselves in a dispute where, admittedly, their members (the train drivers) have a significant interest but were not the only interested parties. The other interested parties are the members of the RMT (the guards/ conductors/ on-board supervisors (“OBSs”) whichever you may wish to call them). But whatever you call them, they are not the button-pushers that seem to be the ones trying to force a settlement blind to the real issue.
The real issue is not who pushes the button to close the train doors – it is who deals with safety on the train whilst the train driver is running the train and when the train driver is waiting to push the button to close the doors. That includes dealing with accidents (fortunately not that frequent but still a concern to mitigate against) and, very frequently, assisting passengers with additional needs. It was part of the Southern/ Aslef agreement that OBSs would be rostered on all trains but (to emphasise their perceived irrelevance) if one wasn’t available for a particular train, the train would run anyway. But what is the OBS’s role towards disabled passengers (let’s forget here the general security role) ? The Southern/ Aslef management solution to that issue was to give these passengers an option of a later train or (theoretically) a taxi. Is anyone surprised that the members of two trade unions, each with an everyday understanding of the responsibility of running a railway with real passengers, said no?
The downside of this debacle is that we are back where we started. As we have said over many months now – the only way to resolve this is for the government to intervene and for Southern to recruit more OBSs so that trains always run with a security-trained member of staff.
Meanwhile, the RMT has announced another strike day – Wednesday 22 February 22. Yes, it really is déjà vu all over again, yet again.
Photos: library images